Saelens retires, and SBU does the MEP shuffle

Retirement plan: The time is right, according to Harvard-trained mentor and business-development expert Jeffrey Saelens (right), who's calling it a career.
By GREGORY ZELLER //

The man tapped to manage a $5 million regional manufacturing program is out, less than a year into the five-year state award.

Jeffrey Saelens, executive director of the Stony Brook University-anchored Manufacturing and Technology Resource Consortium, is retiring, effective at the end of the month. The university has made no official statement, but Saelens confirmed his imminent departure to Innovate LI Tuesday morning.

“I’m 77,” he said. “That’s enough.”

Saelens, who is also interim executive director of the Long Island High Technology Incubator and previously served as director of the New York State Small Business Development Center at SBU, was selected to manage the MTRC earlier this year, after the university won the regional Manufacturing Extension Partnership competition sponsored by NYSTAR, Empire State Development’s innovation division.

Winning the MEP competition knighted the university as NYSTAR’s Long Island Regional Technology Development Center and gave birth to the MTRC, which includes more than a dozen partners, including numerous SBU Centers of Excellence and state-run SBDCs, as well as corporate partners and other Island schools.

Now batting: Imin Kao will succeed Jeffrey Saelens atop the MTRC.

Under Saelens’ direction, the consortium manages an annual $950,000 stipend from NYSTAR, focused on manufacturing with a distinct biotechnology bent – the main theme of the university’s pitch in the MEP competition.

Now, that responsibility will belong to Imin Kao, director of SBU’s Strategic Partnership for Industrial Resurgence, who will succeed Saelens as executive director of the MTRC.

Saelens – who did postdoctoral work at Harvard Medical School, led a quarter-century of commercial R&D efforts and spent 17 years as NYSTAR’s research director – predicted a “relatively smooth transition” as Kao steps up.

Not only is Kao’s SPIR program already a “big player” in the MTRC, Saelens noted, but “he’s an engineer, and a lot of the manufacturing issues facing Long Island manufacturers are engineering issues.”

Plus, Kao “works closely with South Korean industries,” a particular advantage for the director of a U.S. manufacturing consortium, according to Saelens.

“He knows our competition probably better than other people who might take the same position,” the retiring exec said. “He knows the ways they’re beating us and can probably make some pretty good recommendations on how to catch up.

“Biotechnology might not be a particular area of expertise in South Korea, but to some extent, manufacturing is manufacturing,” Saelens added. “And they sure know how to make cars.”